Lidia Hernandez has a long time to go before applying to college, but the 11-year-old is not wasting any time.
She’s already begun to research universities and even has a favorite.
At the top of the list?
The animated sixth-grader is just one of 88 students who have been selected to participate in the Educational Talent Search Program at the University of Texas at Brownsville. The program is funded with grants from the U.S. Department of Education and is meant to get first generation, low-income students thinking early about careers and college, Program Director Leo Villarreal said.
An orientation of sorts was held Thursday, Villarreal said.
“What we are trying to do is kind of pique their career interest,” he said.
The students will remain with the program through their senior year of high school, Villarreal said.
All of them are from the area and attend classes in the Brownsville Indepen dent School District.
“If we can get them going earlier in middle school, they’ll be college ready by the time they graduate,” said Villarreal, adding that it’s been a challenge for seniors who have been transitioning to college coursework.
In the fall of 2012, the freshmen class at UTB and Texas Southmost College (as a partnership) had 38 percent of its students enrolled in some form of remedial courses, according to a report by Brownsville’s All In, a community-wide effort trying to enroll higher numbers of low-income students in post-secondary education. During the past seven years, the percentage of students needing remedial courses has decreased by 23 percent, according to the report.
On this occasion, students from UTB’s Physics program performed what they call the “Physics Circus,” a series of educational experiments meant to make learning about science fun.
“You are at a great age. This is when people start thinking of what they are going to do. We want you to start thinking of going into college,” Robert Stone, a faculty associate at UTB, told the children.
One demonstration involved placing a balloon full of air in a vat of liquid nitrogen that caused the balloon to shrink. Once the balloon was pulled out of the container it inflated back to size.
Before plunging the balloon in the vat, students were asked what they thought would happen.
Some cried out that an explosion would occur.
“It’s going to scare me,” said Iancarlo Macias, plugging is ears with his fingers and ducking his head in case of a loud noise.
But when he saw the balloon shrivel down and then grow again, he exclaimed with surprise.
“I was shocked,” Macias said. “I’ve never seen anything like that when the air got sucked in and came back.”
Iancarlo wants to be an engineer when he’s older. He said watching the UTB Physics Circus perform makes him want to see other types of experiments.
Making science relatable, Stone said, works for younger students as well as older ones.
“It’s important for the public in general to see science in context,” Stone said.
For Katelyn Espinoza, 11, the physics circus has influenced her to consider a career as a physicist in the future, she said. She said she’s always wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, but now she’s thinking of pursuing science.
“You can learn how to do new things,” Katelyn said.
The group’s know-it-all, a sprightly 11-year-old boy by the name of Osvaldo Cortes, isn’t really into science, he said, but yet he knows all of the right answers.
Newton’s third law of motion?
Osvaldo can recite it from memory.
For every action, one of the professors leading the demonstration began.
“—There’s an opposite reaction,” interjected Osvaldo.
Lidia Figueroa, an alumna of the program, now acts as a volunteer.
Figueroa, who is set to graduate from UTB in December, said the program was instrumental for her in making the leap to college. Without it, she said, the transition would have been difficult.
“I’m a first generation college student,” Figueroa, 23, said. “So they guided me when no one else could.”